Letter: Tale of Two Women

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In the aftermath of 2018’s general election, two transcendent local political realities remain. Toni Iseman, targeted for political elimination, was re-elected by a larger majority than her opponents. Jennifer Welsh Zeiter led opposition to a utility under grounding tax measure, and beat City Hall by a decisive majority.

Heavy handed, big money anti-Iseman attack tactics by the good-old-boy network seeking to dominate City Hall backfired. Finally stepping aside himself, Kelly Boyd tried taking Iseman down with him on his way out. But Boyd’s clumsy letter trashing Toni and taking credit for the Liberate Laguna candidate slate was reminiscent of Kelly and Elizabeth Pearson’s ill-fated anointment of Jon Madison to replace Toni in 2014.  

City Hall regime change Boyd touted as enlightened pragmatism by developers-with-heart instead engendered perceptions of backroom collusion among downtown fat cat cronies on a first-name-only basis with Kelly. That was self-inflicted, intended as a call to trust “business leaders who care,” but widely seen as a gloves-off political mugging, creating sympathetic backlash favoring Iseman.

In the uncanny logic of small-town civic democracy, undeserved demonization converted Iseman from poster child for term limits to something akin to an anti-establishment insurgent. Even her perennially entrenched Village Laguna political base somehow suddenly seemed more within voter comfort zone than the Liberate Laguna platform.

I never missed a chance to criticize Toni for voting in 2002 along with Steve Dicterow to turn down federal grants worth $20 million in 2018 dollars, to upgrade downtown storm drains and prevent cyclical downtown flooding degrading marine zone far worse than City Hall admits. However, I was not alone in recognizing that as mayor in 2017, she did not follow, but took command of the Antifa/Altright showdown to preserve civic order, facing real political risk more courageously than any mayor ever.

Voters across the political spectrum also decided Jennifer Welsh Zeiter’s sometimes confrontational style didn’t mean she wasn’t right about the city’s need to live within its means, so public debt is a last, not first, resort.

Jennifer took on municipal debt lawyer and City Hall kingpin Bob Whalen, who stoked fear of utility blazes. She rallied informed voters demanding city preparedness for all fires, paid for from revenues, not more property taxes.

Agree with them or not, no one can argue with the fortitude and success of these two women in election 2018.

Howard Hills, Laguna Beach


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  1. Jennifer Zeiter is an amazing lady, her small group with $7500 and hard work fought hard and tough against the Tony Iseman’s and Whalen’s city money grab that was paid primarily with tax dollars to the the tune of $400,000 +. Not supported by pacs or anyone actually..in truth you cannot compare the 2 women, one went against goliath the other sat on pacs and old alliances..really no comparison. Congratulations Jennifer..thank you for your hard work! You saved we the taxpayers a lot of money and we didn’t have to pay for Tony’s free undergrounding on a street that nobody in their right mind would get on in the case of a fire! Thank you much.

  2. Barbara thanks for your comment. I understand your point about the differences between the two women, but I was not comparing or contrasting them on the merits or what their respective successes mean in terms of future outcomes. My observations go purely to the political dynamics that produced remarkable and in my own view dramatic election results. It was fascinating to watch each of them navigate treacherous waters and overcome real perils of their voyage to victory. But you are right, what Jenny accomplished with limited resources was comparable to the 2012 defeat of the nearly $100,000 campaign for the so-called “open-space” tax that would have created a new subsidized City Hall agency. As the former Youth Representative appointed by Jim Dilley to the original Greenbelt Committee, I believe Jim would have opposed that mixed use public land grab, which was defeated with a $2,300. budget contributed by former members of LB Taxpayers, before it was infiltrated and sabotaged from within despite Jennifer’s valiant effort to save it. So, come to think of it, it is ama big what Jennifer has accomplished without holding office or having big time sponsors or backing. Still, that dies not change the point that regardless if all that in 2018 Toni and Jennifer share one thing in common: They are the two who won the most votes despite being singled out for political disparagement and defeat.


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